The answer is not what you might think. It is not at home or at parties, but in the workplace. Recent figures from the Bureau of Statistics suggest that almost sixty-five percent of full-time workers put in more than forty hours per week. Over eighteen percent are doing over fifty hours. Working longer hours means having less time to plan, prepare or sit down for meals. In this environment, it is common for breakfast, lunch or dinner to be skipped, grabbed on the run or replaced with snacks.
It’s not your imagination! It’s harder to eat well and maintain a healthy weight at work than ever before. Vending machines and takeaway runs are more common place than packed lunches. And, the well-meaning co-worker who brings in cakes or treats to keep everyone going at the eleventh hour, is not helping anyone’s waistline.
Wansink, Painter & Lee (2006) found that secretaries given chocolates in clear jars reached for a sweet treat 71% more often than those given candies in an opaque vessel. As long as the clear dish was visible, the secretary ate 77 more calories a day, which could tack on 5 extra pounds each year (Wansink 2006c). Simply hiding the jar or placing it in a less convenient location quelled temptation. Desktop jars enticed the typical secretary into eating nine chocolates a day, or an extra 225 calories; however, stashing the jar in a desk drawer lowered the daily chocolate intake to six, and moving the jar a mere 6 feet away reduced intake to just four candies per day (Painter, Wansink & Hieggelke 2002).
Secretaries are not the only ones lured to the lolly jar and there are many more temptations in the workplace. Saying no to birthday cake or a celebratory slice of pizza can be difficult. Even when the cake isn’t all that appealing, we don’t want to offend anyone by not joining in. Saying no often requires justification. Making announcements about our personal health goals to our work colleagues is not always ideal and many people worry about how others will react. The nation is struggling with a near 50% obesity rate (ABS 2011), so the peer pressure in most workplaces generally sides with the birthday cake.
For most, the fear of rejection never goes away. Not being accepted creates the same amount of worry for an adult in the work place as it does for a child at school (Research by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology 2010). When yet another birthday comes around, having a piece of cake can be part of the company culture. Saying no, can be difficult. Choosing health should be simple, but the fear of not fitting in places immense pressure on people.
The workplace can also be a supportive environment. Connecting with one or two co-workers with similar health goals can make the world of difference. Even if you start doing it alone, it probably won’t take long for others to join you. People will want the energy, concentration and health that goes along with eating well. Be the example others have been waiting for.
Better health at work can come from doing a few key things consistently. Here are some examples:
- Connect with those who are on a similar journey. Join an online forum or a local group of likeminded people. Be the change!
- Give yourself permission to be different. It is okay to want change and it is okay to make change.
- Be a positive peer by supporting others who are also trying to improve themselves.
- Socialise and celebrate without food. It can be done.
- Bring pre-made meals and healthy snacks to work with you. If you don’t have time to make them yourself, Slim Meals can do it for you.
- Avoid desk dining. Take a lunch break. Give yourself time to digest and enjoy your food.
- Promote the fruit bowl. If you have a fruit basket at work, bring it closer to your desk. If there isn’t a fruit basket, ask your HR people to provide one. A healthier workplace means better performance and less sick days. What workplace wouldn’t want that?
Your work place doesn’t need to be a health hazard. If you feel like health is not a priority in your office, take control of the situation. Stand up and do the right thing for yourself and your colleagues. Better health is better for everyone.